Like several of the American Impressionists, Michigan-born Frederick Carl Frieseke spent most of his life in France, sending his paintings home to the United States for exhibition and sale. He had first traveled to Paris in 1897, enrolling at the Académie Julian, long a popular program for aspiring American artists. Frieseke also studied with the renowned American expatriate painter James McNeill Whistler at his short-lived school, the Académie Carmen. Whistler’s passion for Japanese art, for decoration, and for distinctive color arrangements had a lasting influence on Frieseke’s work. Frieseke also admired the French Impressionist Claude Monet, particularly for his brilliant use of color and his interest in the effects of sunlight. From 1906 to 1919 Frieseke spent his summers in Giverny, the small village in Normandy that had been Monet’s home since 1883, joining the significant colony of American artists there.
In The Yellow Room Frieseke fused bold color juxtapositions and careful formal design, bringing together the qualities he most admired in the work of Monet and Whistler. He posed his model in the living room of his own house in Giverny, which itself was one of his artistic creations. Frieseke had painted the walls lemon yellow and ornamented the room with blue rugs and curtains, a striking color combination that Monet had also employed in his home. Against this backdrop Frieseke posed a costumed model, arranged Japanese ceramics, and massed containers of fruit and flowers to create a panoply of color and pattern. The large Imari-style plate and the model’s kimono reflect the artist’s interest in Asian art, with its emphasis on two-dimensional design and ornament. The wealth and variety of patterns Frieseke employed, as well as the way in which the figure is not given precedence but instead merges into its surroundings, also recall paintings by Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. Like those modern French artists, Frieseke created intimate domestic interiors that use bold decorative arrangements to explore the shifting relationship between paintings as representations of the real world and as independent abstract designs. These concerns would preoccupy many American artists throughout the twentieth century.